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Segregation & Baptist Organizations
Despite how integral Virginia was to the massive resistance that surged across the country following the Brown v. Board decision of 1954, the Commonwealth’s Baptist organizations, such as churches and the Baptist General Association of Virginia, played a competing role by both criticizing racial discrimination before the case and refusing to cooperate with the plan of resistance following the Supreme Court decision. This association supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would come to eventually condemn all forms of segregation. Beliefs and values held dear to Baptists such as law and order, Scripture, evangelism, and education led them to accept desegregation gradually and oftentimes reluctantly. (Newman 257) Though Virginia Baptists weren’t always advocates for integration, they consistently advocated for Baptist values to be upheld in their state, as well as the University due to its Baptist affiliation.
Through further examination of George Modlin’s Segregation folder, the role that Baptist-affiliated organizations played in consulting, and oftentimes pressuring, the University of Richmond to either integrate or handle race-related issues with “Baptist values” became apparent. There were certainly pressures internally as well from students, particularly in the Baptist Student Union. Baptist organizations, like Baptist Churches of the Greater Richmond Area, took it upon themselves to urge the school to respond to race-related issues in accordance with the view of Virginia Baptists at the time. Outside of Richmond, and even in the Commonwealth of Virginia, other leaders of institutions of higher education with Baptist affiliations reached out to President Modlin for guidance so that Baptist universities might be able to have similar stances on integration. (Newman)
This set of documents contains letters from Robert Toone, Chairman of the Board of Deacons at Ashland Baptist Church, to President Modlin regarding a "demonstration" in which University of Richmond students held up a sign that stated, "King Cong Died for our Sins"; this was part of a mock protest by the pledges of Phi Delta Theta as an attempt to parody activists. In this letter, which was sent on February 26, 1968, Toone wrote that the sign was offensive to God and detrimental to the school's reputation, especially since the university was a Baptist college. However, Toone did not mention that the sign had a racist connotation, given its reference to "King Cong."
President Modlin responded to Toone's letter on March 20, 1968. Modlin called the parody protest a "so-called demonstration," which ignored the point that since it was a mockery of activists, the pledges were demonstrating against activism. The fraternity president and pledges involved in the incident wrote Modlin letters of apology; they claimed that they thought the sign was innocuous and did not intend to commit blasphemy. Modlin believed the students and asked Toone to forgive them for "they know not what they do." Modlin ignored the fraternity's intent to mock activists and did not hold them accountable for their actions.
Regardless of whether or not President Modlin intended to project a slight air of indifference, these letters show how the President at least respected these institutions and how involved the Baptist community of Richmond was in the affairs of the University of Richmond. Because of the University's Baptist roots, the image of the University reflected onto the Baptists of Richmond, regardless of whether or not that image was good or bad. Therefore, although community Baptists weren't always pushing for complete integration, they were against racial discrimination and anything else that projected a poor light over their image. It seems as if they made sure to express their concerns directly to President Modlin.
James E Wood, professor of Religious Studies at Baylor University, wrote to President Modlin on August 23, 1961 that he was intrigued by the Report of the Joint Meeting of the Education Commission of the Southern Baptist Colleges and School, which featured The University of Richmond’s Admissions Committee. The report stated that ten southern, Baptist schools had begun to integrate their schools at varying levels. Because of this, Professor Wood wanted to know the names of these Baptist colleges that had begun to integrate at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Since Baylor had not yet started the integration process, he felt that knowing these schools would be helpful guides for them to follow. The letter from Baylor to the University of Richmond indicates how Southern colleges with Baptist roots looked to each other to seek guidance on policy changes and social adaptations to their institutions.
Alley, John Reuben, and Robert S. Alley. University of Richmond. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2010. 65-127. Print.
Newman, Mark. "The Baptist General Association of Virginia and Desegregation, 1931-1980." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 105, no. 3 (1997): 257-86. Web.
Click the images below to view the documents in their entirety.